Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Petition for Less-Expensive High School Is Gaining Ground

The Almanac reports on the growing movement to petition the school board for a less-expensive renovation of the high school:
Mt. Lebanon resident Charlotte Stephenson is not against upgrading the aging high school. She is, however, opposed to the possibility of spending $113 million, the amount the school board set as a cap for the renovation and addition project.

To make hers and similar opinions known and to alert the school board to the fact not everyone is pleased with the scope of the project, a petition is circulating in the municipality urging the board to support a lower cost option to renovate and expand the current high school building.
I noticed petitioners on my street yesterday and the day before, and I don’t exactly live in “core” Mt. Lebanon. If the petitioners are able to visit all the houses on streets like mine, they’re covering a lot of ground.

What will happen if the petitioners gain the support of a large portion of Mt. Lebanon? How do you think the school board will respond?

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19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be sure to catch Michael Davis, MBA, Med, letter to the editor in the same edition, pretty strong argument against the #113MM.
Posti comments on her blog that anything under $96MM for the project is just a fix of the HVAC and painting of walls.
Could she produce the documentation supporting that supposition?
Dean Spahr

March 10, 2010 10:39 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Dean, I'll ask an even easier question. Let's take Ms. Posti's remarks as true. Can she even tell us where she comes up with a savings of $17 million?

March 10, 2010 11:11 AM  
Blogger Joe Polk said...

Here is a link to the letter to the editor that Dean refers to -- http://www.thealmanac.net/ALM/Story/03-10-2010-letter-ML-Davis.

March 10, 2010 11:21 AM  
Blogger Joe Polk said...

Here is also another letter to the editor by former teacher Jane Offutt -- http://www.thealmanac.net/ALM/Story/03-03-2010-letter-ML-Offutt

March 10, 2010 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Tom, the petition is gaining ground. If anyone is interested in circulating a petition, email mtlsdcosts@gmail.com
Also, the online petition is still available at www.ipetitions.com/petition/mtlhscost/
Elaine Gillen

March 10, 2010 11:24 AM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

I do not question Ms. Offut's firsthand experiences at the high school, but I find it a bit funny (at best) that she would suggest that the taxpayers should "suck it up" and pay it forward while she also enjoys the spoils of her taxpayer-funded pension and increasingly expensive healthcare.

Something about biting the hand, comes to mind . . .

March 10, 2010 11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point Dave:
How many residents have taken a hit on their 401Ks or pensions?
Plus they've absorbed huge increases in their portion of healthcare costs, if indeed they have health insurance?
Dean Spahr

March 10, 2010 12:29 PM  
Blogger JE Cannon said...

So, let me see if I understand this. For $96 million we can only get the HVAC revamped and the walls painted. But for $113 million we get everything else done too? Either HVAC and paint are really, really expensive...or all the other issues that need to be resolved are pretty darn cheap. I say, let's just spend that $40 million difference for everything except HVAC and new paint, and then let's see where we stand...haha

Bottom line is this (and I issue this to the school board, and any elected official anywhere for any matter): If you're so confident spending $113 million is in the community's best interest, put it up for a vote. Easy. That way we'll all know what the true pulse is in OUR community (remember, board members, you're working for the residents, not the other way around). If the vote comes in heavily in favor of the project, then I will shut my mouth, grudgingly pay even more in taxes as I watch roads deteriorate while resting soundly knowing that little Johnny and Suzy have a more comfortable--oh, and LEED certified--learning environment.

And why wouldn't the board put it up for a vote? Heck, then they could go hog wild in terms of borrowing. Oh, wait, I know the answer. Because the majority of the community, once they get actual facts and reality-based figures, are OPPOSED TO THIS NONSENSE! The problem is, as I recently discussed with Charlotte Stephenson, is that many residents feel there is no way to stop this process. There's something very wrong if constituents no longer have the power to guide their elected officials. That smacks of corruption.

March 10, 2010 12:54 PM  
Blogger Marjie said...

A few points on the Offut letter. First with wireless technology doesn't that alleviate a lot of snaking cables etc? Not sure which real estate she is watching but I've kept my eye on it as a relatively newer home buyer and there are plenty of houses here sitting and sitting with no one "gobbling" them up. Moreover, I know of at least 3 houses that I looked at in 2006-07 which were eventually purchased, at least one by a young family with kids, that are back on the market. She doesn't see many houses for sale? On Jan 20 Elaine G noted here Howard Hanna listed 226 properties for sale. On Feb 28th on my blog I noted the number was up to 258. As of today it is 267...not much gobbling up going on as soon as they are listed. Maybe it will happen in the summer months. Even my old mother who moved to Lebo in 1965 commented she has never seen so many houses on the market.

March 10, 2010 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JE Cannon, its the same as their earlier proclamation. For only $10,000,000 more than the $103,000,000 dollar renovation-of the current building, we get that wonderful bridge and athletic complex with bigger pool, and new tennis courts.
School building paint must be really, really expensive!!
Dean Spahr

March 10, 2010 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I make a suggestion? Next paint sale at Home Depot, we should all buy a couple of gallons and store it in our garages or basements. Then we can avoid the warehouse costs for paint storage.
Elaine Gillen

March 10, 2010 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

JE, I think they must be using Windsor & Newton tubes of artist oil paint! Its on sale at $23 per 200 mil tube of titanium white.
Of course you have to use sable hair brushes to get a smooth coat.
Dean Spahr

March 10, 2010 3:53 PM  
Anonymous David Huston said...

Do those fancy brushes come from a retired creature in Chicago?

March 10, 2010 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Chris Musuneggi said...

I usually just read the blog and don’t post, but I think we need to take a step back when it comes to the houses that are on the market here.

First: Homes are selling. Just look in the paper each week and you will see a list of homes that have sold at a variety of prices (100k -900k in the last few months). On my street, 2 homes have gone on the market and sold within just a few months. Not sure how you define gobbling, but they are moving. This leads me to believe that those moving into the community don’t care about the potential tax increase or they would have gone elsewhere.

Second: Of course there are more homes for sale now then 2 months ago. That is the nature of selling homes. You list in the spring. It makes sense that homes on the market in the winter will sit longer. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to move in January. I’m no real estate agent, but I would expect you see the same thing happen every year and in every community. According to another post we have about 10,000 owner occupied homes. If 300 are for sale, that’s .03 of our homes. I’m not sure if that’s a lot or not compared to other years, but we are certainly not Detroit.

Third: The young family with kids who moved in across the street from me just a couple of years ago moved too. But it had nothing to do with the new school. It was because they wanted to move closer to her family. I have a friend who was transferred to Philly and he had to move. Not every home that is for sale is because of taxes. My wife and I are talking about moving. Not because of the taxes, but for more convenience for her to work. It seems like every house that goes on the market is being blamed on the school. While I am sure that some have to do with the tax increase, there are many other reasons people move in and out of a community. I have friends who live in other communities who have young children and their plan is to move here when the kids get closer to school age.

We need to stop blaming the school for everything that is wrong in the community. We have problems, we can all agree on that, but it is not just the school.

Finally: All of these homes selling are a good thing for the Municipality. The more homes that sell the more the Municipality makes in transfer taxes. So that helps those of us who stay. So I hope all of these homes sell soon. It will help offset the budget deficit for the Municipality.

March 11, 2010 12:38 PM  
Blogger Dave Franklin said...

Chris, I agree that we have not seen homes go on the market in record numbers because of the tax increase. Probably because it hasn't happened yet. However, if the district's projections are accurate, I think that will happen to some degree - especially among the senior population. Any double digit tax increase - whether it is 10% or 40% - is tough to handle on a fixed income. I spoke with my Dad last week and he has decided to seriously think about selling his home in advance of the tax increase. The prospect of paying a 40% increase himself in taxes or trying to sell the house once the tax increase hits have caused him to examine his options.

I do think that certain houses in Lebo are staying on the market longer because people are waiting to see what happens. For every street like yours, there's one like mine. It's a short dead end and we have 7 houses on the market . . . 3 that have been listed for well over a year.

Lastly, I think we can all agree that the school project is not to blame for everything. ALL of the traditional costs in our school district are going up, as are the costs on the municipal side, regardless of what we do on Cochran Rd. For the record, our taxes will go up even without a new high school. It is no secret that the municipal budget will have to make up a $3,000,000 shortfall next year. Where will that money come from? We also know that the increase in school taxes will be pumped up due to pension obligations and other rising costs. Most importantly, those increase, together with the new municipal expenses, are pretty much locked in. Despite our best intentions, we really can't do much about them at this point. On the other hand, we can absolutely still control what expenses we incur on the school project. In fact, most would tell you that the school project is the ONLY expense that we can adjust in order to limit the tax increases and maintain the all important status quo.

Our community is indeed in line for some very difficult decisions. I would love it if more people would focus on things other than the high school, because then I believe that they would more clearly understand why so many folks are concerned about such a large expense.

In an effort to fill the $3,000,000 municipal hole, we will probably see an increase on that tax bill. In addition, we will undoubtedly see a reduction in services, or at least significant increases in the fees charged for certain services or new fees for services that used to be provided without charge. Currently, we pay very little to use the pool, tennis courts, trash collection, etc. Those costs can all be expected to increase when faced with significant budget deficits. Last year, Lebo toyed with cutting the farmer's market, First Fridays and the parades. Those events were saved, but we borrowed money to fix streets and sidewalks. With a $3,000,000 hole to fill next year, I'm certain those things and others like them will be back on the chopping block. And more money will still be needed

March 11, 2010 2:08 PM  
Blogger Marjie said...

Let me clarify as I did not mean to blame the school situation on the number of houses on the market or the length of time they remain there. I mentioned on my own blog in relation to the houses going up on the market recently this is more than likely the usual bump up for the spring so I agree. I'm also sure some are moving for reasons other than the school project such as the economy we've faced. I moved back here in '07 right before the crash. The job I held when I bought is not the job I do now. I would think many of the people who bought when I did (2007) and are putting the house back on the market are a reflection of the bad economy (many not all).

My response though was to Offut's broad declaration that there are few houses on the market here and they get "gobbled up" (her words) very fast after listing. I've watched the market for 2 years before buying here and have kept an eye on the houses listed after I bought and her observations are different than mine.

I grew up on the deadend Dave F. lives on. My family built/owned their house from 1965 to the late 1990s. Seven houses on the market and many are lingering is a big deal for that street and something I have never seen before. I agree with Dave, I don't think we are seeing the effects of the school project yet on the housing market. I think we are seeing the results of a bad economy on families/home owners and I worry about what we will see when we add the effect of the higher taxes on top of it.

March 11, 2010 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Chris Musuneggi said...

My concern is that we are so focused on the building. We forget that if the school project was not happening we are sill looking at a 30% (using James Fraash's numbers) increase between PSERS and the base budget. We need to start doing something about those too. The cost of the building is not helping, but it is far from the only problem we have. So taxes here are going up one way or another. My question then is, does another 15% put us over the top? For some I am sure the answer is yes. But we are losing potential families now. If you can choose between a house in USC and a nice up to date school or a house here with the current school, which ould you pick?

March 11, 2010 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

Take the politics (GOP vs. Democrats) out of this article and see if you don't see the parallels between what our school board is doing vs. what our Congress is doing....

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/11/AR2010031102904.html

March 12, 2010 7:52 AM  
Anonymous David Huston said...

Chris Musuneggi, NOW is the time to be focused on the building.
Until Noon Eastern Daylight Time on Monday 05-APR-2010, nothing else is more important.

March 12, 2010 8:00 AM  

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